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Aspire Visa Execs are Biggest Ralph Reed Funders

What Annual Fee Would Jesus Charge?

(APN) ATLANTA--Ralph Reed's largest campaign financial supporters, members of Georgia's Hanna family, are major owners of CompuCredit–the company which issues the highly usurious "credit rebuilding" Aspire Visa Card–Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

Aspire Visa is notorious for extremely high annual fees, monthly fees, account opening fees, credit line increase fees, and finance charges, in addition to awful customer service. CompuCredit, which runs Aspire Visa, targets individuals with past credit problems who are unlikeky to receive a credit offer from any other company.

David Hanna, CompuCredit President and CEO, gave $12,000 total in an off-election year to Mr. Reed for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Governor, according to disclosure statements of financial contributors obtained by Atlanta Progressive News. Frank Hanna, President of HBR Capitol Ltd., and David's brother, gave $13,000. Kimberly Hanna, a homemaker, gave $13,000. Sally Hanna, a homemaker, gave $13,000.

The Hanna brothers may find it difficult to appreciate the struggles of the poor since they are listed as eighth and ninth on a 2005 list of "Georgia's 100 Barons of Business."

Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, chair of the Georgia Republican Party, and Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign, now finds his election campaign for Georgia's Lieutenant Governor running out of steam.

With reports piling up of his association with disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, interest and contributions to Reed's campaign are fizzling out.

In recent weeks, 21 of Georgia's 34 state senators urged Mr. Reed to drop out of the race given his ties to Abramoff.

Mr. Reed faces two compelling Democratic challengers for the Lt. Governor seat this year, Greg Hecht and Jim Martin.

Hannas First Made News for Shady Blue Cross Insurance Deals

Guarding their privacy, there wasn't much in the press about the Hannas until the state's largest health insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia, was converted from a not-for-profit to a for-profit corporation.

Georgia Blue Cross became a for-profit in 1996 under the umbrella of Cerulean, a holding company largely owned by Frank and David Hanna, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Advocates for the poor brought suit claiming public assets were plundered without fair compensation. Blue Cross settled agreeing to create an $81 million endowment fund that would make grants to address public health needs. When Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia merged with WellPoint Health Networks in 1998, one day after the lawsuit was settled, the Hannas cleared at least $54 million in profit.

Blue Cross was purchased by Cerulean for $170 million in 1996, but was sold later for $500 million two years later. Advocates who brought suit against Cerulean contended Blue Cross was at first grossly undervalued.

Also of concern, Cerulean employed former Georgia politicians as lobbyists to shepherd the initial purchase through the Georgia legislature, including the former state democratic chairman and a former aide to the governor.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner, John Oxendine, later approved the deal, even after receiving campaign contributions from the Hannas. Oxendine faces Democratic challenger Guy Drexinger in this year's election. Drexinger told APN that Oxendine has an ongoing problem of supporting causes when those causes support his election campaign.

Aspiring to Take Money from the Poor

In 1996, the Hanna brothers bought a controlling interest in CompuCredit Corp, joining other top executives who formerly worked at Equifax.

CompuCredit markets their Aspire Credit Card to those who have bad or no credit, and who are unlikely to find a credit card with any other company. At the end of 2005, CompuCredit had over 3.5 million customer accounts with an aggregate managed portfolio of $2.49 billion in receivables, according to the company's website. The company, which is located in Greater Atlanta, markets itself as part of the "New South's Economic Renaissance."

"I was happy at first to be approved as a college student in need of cash," a card holder–who wishes to remain anonymous–told Atlanta Progressive News.

"I knew the annual fees were awful, but I really needed the money at the time. I got a $300 limit, but was immediately charged a $100 annual fee, $6.50 monthly fee, and a $19 account opening fee. Really, I only got about $175 in actual credit but a bill for $300," the source said.

"As months went by, I received more monthly fees and finance charges," the source continued. "In about one year I had already repaid what I borrowed but still was maxed out. And that's when I got the annual fee again. Now, I'm pretty much making payments every month only to cover the fees. I already paid back the principal forever ago, and I'm paying interest on fees, and fees on interest!"

"People also need to know about Credit Line Increase Fees. I once received a $100 credit line increase but was assessed a $39 fee for the increase," the source said.

"The worst thing was when I had a dispute with the company. The customer service reps, who all sound like they're in India, were rude and would not put me in touch with a manager. I called the President of Columbus Bank and Trust (CB&T)–which issues Aspire Visa–after an extensive web search, though, and got it straightened out."

The President of CB&T, Steve Melton, is Director of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Board of the United Way, in additional signs of corporate-social-political entanglement.

Here are just two of the many complaints posted on the Internet about Aspire Visa:

"Aspire had sent me my new card along with my terms and conditions. On it was stated no annual fee and a 12%APR. I still hadn't used the card, but when I received my statement I had been charged a $59 annual fee, and over 18%APR. I was very upset so I spent days trying to call them. I could not reach anything other then a automated machine over and over," one customer told the RipOff Report.

"Where do I begin? I feel as if this company has been screwing me over since the beginning….Like many, I believed that making the minimum payment would be all right, but it wasn't. I was paying more and more every month. I currently pay a 36.75% interest rate that continually goes up….I have a list of other complaints about this company too. I've written the Attorney General's office in both Maryland and Georgia about this company's business practices and am waiting to hear back from them. I'm in debt with this company up to my ears, they have harassed me at my workplace with nasty and threatening phone calls," another customer said.

These types of practices have an adverse impact on the ability of low income Americans to keep their finances in order.

According to a 2004 Gallup Poll, families with an annual income below $20,000 were paying 14.3 percent of their income on credit card debt.

Ties to the Christian Right

Like Reed and the Christian Coalition, Frank J. Hanna III is associated with the right-wing Legion of Christ, a multinational group of "orthodox" Catholic clergy known for fund-raising successes and an affinity for evangelizing the rich and powerful.

Mr. Hanna is also serving on President Bush's Commission on Hispanic Education, helped form several religious schools, and was once a Truman Scholar.

The Wall St. Journal ran an article on January 23, 2006, noting critics who argue that the Legion's "focus on the wealthy reinforces the sharp class divides that have long held Latin America back socially and economically. They say the Legion fosters intolerance and social climbing rather than devotion to Christ's gospel. Some in Mexico, instead of referring to the order's followers as Legionnaires of Christ, call them the 'Millionaires of Christ.'"

The Legion has been banned in three U.S. dioceses and has been successful in only two -- Sacramento, California, and Atlanta, Georgia.

Here in Atlanta, the Legion made front page news when they took control of the Donnellan School in Buckhead (now known as Holy Spirit Prep) by having police escort the Principal and two other administrators out of the building in the middle of a school day and in full view of horrified and weeping elementary school students.

Hanna's most touted charity is the Solidarity School located off Roswell Road, near I-285.

Hanna is also well-known for his leadership in a group of nominal American Catholics who, among other activities, encouraged their bishops to refuse communion to presidential candidate, John Kerry, in order to further their aspirations for the new American imperialism.

It is this mutual willingness to abuse the label "Christian" which sets Reed and Hanna apart from other political operatives.

(This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, Editor, Atlanta Progressive News.)

About the Author:

Betty Clermont is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. She may be reached at betty@atlantaprogressivenews.com

References:

http://www.sos.state.ga.us/disclosure/2005/ltgoralph%20reednq2a.pdf

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